When Nick embarks on his quest to turn the made-up word "frindle" (meaning “pen”) into a term accepted by the masses, he recognizes immediately that he cannot change the English language on his own. In making it clear that Nick is a leader but is, more than anything, a team player, Frindle focuses on the value of collective action and suggests that working together towards a common goal is one of the best and most successful ways to enact change.
Even prior to the fifth grade, Nick discovers that his pranks are far more successful when he's able to bring in others to help him. For instance, he skillfully ropes his entire third grade class into making Miss Deaver's room a tropical island, and Janet Fisk is more than willing to help Nick torment Mrs. Avery with high-pitched bird noises in fourth grade.
When it comes to making "frindle" take hold, Nick skillfully uses his charisma to gradually bring in supporters. He begins with a group of six students who all take an oath to only use "frindle" instead of "pen," and eventually expands this to the entire fifth grade class of 150 students. Because the students act collectively, Mrs. Granger's attempts to punish them morph into status symbols or rites of passage rather than remain true punishments. In this way, the students come to think of serving detention with her as a "badge of honor"—rather than signifying that a student misbehaved, serving detention instead connotes that a student is part of a larger movement. In other words, acting together offers Nick's classmates a way to find solidarity and support each other as they fight for their right to use "frindle" rather than "pen." This suggests that one of the major upsides of working as a team is this sense of camaraderie—which is strong enough to turn something intended to be a punishment into something positive. Nick and his classmates also find that there's safety and power in numbers. Eventually, parents and even the school administrators become annoyed that Mrs. Granger is keeping hundreds of children after school in detention. Soon she's forced to stop giving detention for the use of "frindle" at all, a turn of events that only happened because enough people got upset.
One of the reasons that this prank in particular requires teamwork is because in order to change a word, buy-in from others is necessary. Simply deciding to call pens "frindles" as a solo act wouldn't have done much of anything, as language is something that connects people to each other and is predicated on a shared understanding of what words mean. Nick would've simply been unintelligible to everyone else had he not drawn in others to help him spread the word. This reinforces the communal aspect of language itself, as well as reinforces Nick's understanding of how teamwork and unity can bring about change.
Notably, Nick takes what he learns about the power of community and applies it to other causes in the future. The narrator says that there are many things that Nick was able to change during his time as a student, but it offers only his successful bid to improve Westfield's cafeteria food as an example of what can be achieved through collective action. Though Frindle doesn't take the idea any further than that, it's worth noting that Nick is learning a valuable lesson that will continue to benefit him even as he enters adulthood. Teamwork, collective action, and unified protest have brought about all manner of changes throughout history, and have been essential elements of labor, suffrage, and civil rights movements worldwide. With this, Frindle becomes more than a lesson in language—Nick's organizing teaches young readers how to be active, engaged, and questioning citizens and makes it clear that when people work together towards a common goal, they'll be able to make real change in their communities.
Leadership and Teamwork ThemeTracker
Leadership and Teamwork Quotes in Frindle
For the rest of Nick's fourth-grade year, at least once a week, Mrs. Avery heard a loud "peeeeep" from somewhere in her classroom—sometimes it was a high-pitched chirp, and sometimes it was a very high-pitched chirp.
Don't even think about chewing a piece of gum within fifty feet of her. If you did, Mrs. Granger would see you and catch you and make you stick the gum onto a bright yellow index card. Then, she would safety-pin the card to the front of your shirt and make you wear it for the rest of the school day.
"But if all of us in this room decided to call that creature something else, and if everyone else did, too, then that's what it would be called, and one day it would be written in the dictionary that way. We decide what goes in that book." And she pointed at the giant dictionary.
Nick didn't say "pen." Instead, he said, "Here's your... frindle."
"Frindle?" Janet took her pen and looked at him like he was nuts. She wrinkled her nose and said, "What's a frindle?"
And when she asked, the lady reached right for the pens and said, "Blue or black?"
Nick was standing one aisle away at the candy racks, and he was grinning.
Frindle was a real world. It meant pen. Who says frindle means pen? "You do, Nicholas."
But that just made everyone want to use Nick's new word even more. Staying after school with The Lone Granger became a badge of honor. There were kids in her classroom every day after school. It went on like that for a couple of weeks.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with it. It's just fun, and it really is a real word. It's not a bad word, just different. And besides, it's how words really change, isn't it? That's what you said."
And the next day, all the fifth graders did it again, and so did a lot of other students—over two hundred kids.
Parents called to complain. The school bus drivers threatened to go on strike. And then the school board and the superintendent got involved.
What could she say, though? Mrs. Chatham couldn't very well keep the reporter away from Mrs. Granger because, after all, America is a free country with a free press.
A boy who was almost falling over from the weight of his backpack looked up at her and smiled. "It's not so bad. There's always a bunch of my friends there. I've written that sentence six hundred times now."
Or this bit about Nick: "Everyone agrees that Nick Allen masterminded this plot that cleverly raises issues about free speech and academic rules. He is the boy who invented the new word."
"Well," said Nick, "The funny thing is, even though I invented it, it's not my word anymore. Frindle belongs to everyone now, and I guess everyone will figure out what happens together."
All the kids and even some of the teachers used the new word. At first it was on purpose. Then it became a habit, and by the middle of February, frindle was just a word, like door or tree or hat.
I see now that this is the kind of chance that a teacher hopes for and dreams about—a chance to see bright young students take an idea they have learned in a boring old classroom and put it to a real test in their own world.
So many things have gone out of date. But after all these years, words are still important. Words are still needed by everyone. Words are used to think with, to write with, to dream with, to hope and pray with. And that is why I love the dictionary. It endures. It works. And as you now know, it also changes and grows.